Page 16 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2013

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April 2013
the foreign Service journal
speaking out
oday is not “the best of times”
for unions. Te portion of the
U.S. work force that is unionized
has fallen to 11.3 percent—just
one in nine employees. Tat’s the lowest
level since the 1930s.
Outside the Beltway, diplomats rank
far below warriors—and the Foreign
Service remains subject to confusion in
American minds with the Foreign Legion
and the Forestry Service.
So what do these ominous trends
portend for the American Foreign Service
Association? AFSA advertises its anoma-
lous hybridization as both a union and a
professional association as a strong suit,
but critics see it as possessing the weak-
nesses of both and the strengths of neither.
First, I would argue that AFSA fails the
essential test of a professional association:
the ability to determine the credentials
and qualifcations for entry into the career,
or to ensure that members are periodi-
cally recertifed for membership. Tere is
no professionally designed preparatory
regime of study, or AFSA-devised exami-
nation structure for FS entry.
Nor are there are any “technical
requirements” for joining the Foreign
Service, such as entry-level profciency
in a foreign language. Tere is no post-
admission “diplomacy academy,” other
than A-100’s vague familiarization course,
Unionization, AFSA and the Foreign Service
By Dav i d T. Jones
David T. Jones, a retired Senior FSO, is a frequent contributor to
Te Foreign Service Journal
He is the editor of
Te Reagan-Gorbachev Arms Control Breakthrough: Te Treaty Eliminat-
ing Intermediate-Range (INF) Missiles
(New Academia Publishing, 2012), and co-author of
Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs: Canada, the USA and the Dynamics of State, Industry and Culture
(Wiley, 2007).
and no systemic schedule of continu-
ing education, such as characterizes
law or medicine. Has AFSA ever made a
systematic, sustained efort to push for the
introduction of such requirements?
Diplomats of other nations are
appalled at our willy-nilly selection pro-
cess, identifying individuals (often with no
experience in government, international
relations, U.S. diplomatic or institutional
State Department history), and dispatch-
ing them abroad labeled “diplomats.” If
they are successful, it refects individual
expertise, not systemic preparation.
Asleep at the Switch
Although AFSA is legally barred from
employing the strongest weapon a union
can wield—the ability to take direct
action/strike to defend its members’
interests—there are many other steps it
could take. Instead, we whine, importune
and send the equivalent of a faccid note
of protest when management tromps on
our toes.
AFSA also has little provenance over
assignments, the essence of a Foreign
Service career. Te powers that be can
arbitrarily assign (or remove) individuals
from assignments, and we cannot grieve
such actions. An ambassador doesn’t like
you? Out you go. Someone more power-
ful has a “favorite” in mind for a position?
Even a director general’s decision can be
reversed, without recourse.
Oversight is a joke, as well. State hasn’t
had a permanent inspector general in
more than four years, yet AFSA has taken
no action to pressure the department or
the administration to rectify the situa-
tion. Has it even issued a blistering press
release deploring the signal this glaring
dereliction of duty sends?
As a “directed service,” we have many
of the liabilities of armed forces personnel
without commensurate compensation,
benefts or recognition. For instance, how
forcefully has AFSA lobbied Congress
to eliminate the caps on payments to
Foreign Service retirees in When Actually
Employed positions?
For that matter, AFSA still hasn’t suc-
ceeded in obtaining full Overseas Compa-
rability Pay for non-Senior Foreign Service
members serving overseas.
Given AFSA’s failure to fulfll its respon-
sibilities on behalf of the Foreign Service
bargaining unit, its members should be
exploring the possibility of asking the
American Federation of Government
Employees or some other organization to
represent them.
That ‘70s Show
Having been present at the creation—
the vote determining that AFSA, rather
than AFGE, would become the exclusive
bargaining agent for members of the U.S.
Foreign Service in the Department of State
and the other foreign afairs agencies—
I still vividly recall the combination of
arrogance and ignorance that prevailed